Is it time for High Altitude Wines?
1.200-1500 meters up, a race upwards. Once it was called heroic viticulture, now it seems that high altitude wines are the new frontier against global warming
By Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Toscana, agriturismo .
Let’s start from Wine Searcher and from a very interesting article by Wink Lorch that I suggest you read, for its reflections regarding High-Altitude Wines, of which producers talk always more and more.
Altitude signifies freshness: the average temperatures are lower and so the alcohol is low and the acids increase resulting in fine and elegant wines. Also often in high altitude there is a big difference between day and night temperatures with exceptional results in the synthesis of the floral and fruit aromas.
Altitude signifies intensity: in high altitude the sunlight is stronger and with more UV-B rays. This fills the grapes with antioxidants, the grape skin gets thicker and takes into the wine quantities of tannins, excellent anthocyanins. These increase the intensity of the fruit and the ability of the wine to age.
The direct testimony of those who have vineyards over 1000 meters in height on the Etna , such as Santa Maria la Nave, confirm all of this and bring the attention on the less pollution in the air and the better ventilation.
Altitude means contrast to global warming: in the traditional grape growing regions maintaining the right alcohol-acids equilibrium is getting more and more difficult because of the warmer temperatures. The high altitude vineyards can be a valid alternative.
High but how high?
In Europe 500 m above sea level is already a lot for a Vineyard but in South America there are thousands of hectares over 1000 meters and some at even 3000, so it all depends on the latitude. So in the areas near the Equator or however very hot, the high altitude vineyards begin at around 1.500 m above sea level. For example in Tenerife in the Canaries there are cultivations at about 1700 meters while in the Alps the Vineyard in the Vallese at 1150 above sea level was considered a record. Now there are attempts at a cultivation at 1350 m on the Dolomites but we do not yet know if they will give a good result.
The side effects
More you go up and more the risks of spring frosts increase and of not having perfectly ripe grapes at the moment of the grape harvest. In the story by Santa Maria La Nave to these dangers adds a larger risk of hailstorms that is really dreaded by all grape growers.
Of course the charm of this heroic viticulture and the exceptional results fascinate.
Here are some examples: Cave Mont Blanc, Cave del Monte Bianco, Blanc de Morgex et La Salle, Valle d’Aosta, Altitude: 1225m
I Vigneri, Salvo Foti, Vinudilice, Etna, Sicilia, Altitude 1300m
Vigna Bosco, Tsorah, Karasi Areni Noir, Armenia, Altitude: 1400 / 1600m in the Caucasus.